COLLEGE PARK, Md. - His team once again making an art form of self-inflicting wounds, Mark Turgeon could no longer watch. He turned his back to the court and shouted his frustrations at the blank faces on the end of his bench. Then it was his assistants' turn for an earful, as the head coach strode towards half court before bending at the knees and spreading his arms in disbelief.
Maryland fell to Pittsburgh for the second time this season on Saturday night, this time at home, 83-79, in front of 17,202 fans still clinging to hope that their team's disastrous season could be saved with a win over a ranked opponent. But as Evan Smotrycz tossed Maryland's best opportunity for a comeback into the waiting arms of a Panthers defender, Turgeon melted down like a coach that knew his team just blew their last chance.
"I'm not going to be negative," he said afterwards, acknowledging that the turnover was a game-changing play. "I'm just going to say we didn't do our jobs. Guys weren't in the right spots. Guys just have to do their jobs better. It's frustrating."
Pittsburgh had thwarted all of Maryland's efforts to cut into a deficit that hovered around 10 points for most of the second half. With just over five minutes remaining, Talib Zanna was whistled for a flagrant foul after bowling over Smotrycz on a rebound attempt. The crowd roared and the Maryland bench jumped to their feet, sensing a momentum swing in the making.
After draining both free throws to cut the lead to eight, Smotrycz was swarmed out of the ensuing inbounds before throwing it away, gifting two points to Pitt at the other end to push it back to 10. The desperate Terps fought to their death, getting it as close as four in the game's final moments, but the well-oiled Panthers were too disciplined to avoid winning their 18th game of the season.
For the second time this year, Pittsburgh sliced through Maryland's defense at will. The Panthers shot 51 percent from the field and got to the free throw line 47 times on Saturday night, converting their first 16 and finishing with 32 points from the stripe. Lamar Patterson continued his campaign for ACC Player of the Year in style, dropping 28 points on the Terps on only 14 attempts and kicking in seven assists and seven boards.
"I've been a head coach and I've been an assistant coach for about 26 years, and that's one of the best teams I've coached against," Turgeon said. "How they're ranked 20th at 18-2 is beyond me. I think they're a top five team in the country."
Maryland was effective on offense against the stingy Panthers but couldn't prevent Pitt from getting easy buckets on the other end. The Terps didn't block a shot inside and allowed 40 points in the paint. On the rare occasions that their opponent couldn't finish, they repeatedly awarded them with trips to the free throw line. Nine of Pitt's 12 second half shots came via dunk or layup, as the Panthers shot 60 percent after halftime.
"Our balls screen defense wasn't as good as it should have been, and that comes back to communicating," said Dez Wells, who led the Terpsin scoring with 19 points. "We need to do a better job of talking. You can't teach those things, but those are instincts and we have to get better at it and pick it up."
Wells and Jake Layman (18 points, 5 rebounds) were the big contributors for Maryland. Wells played like his hair was on fire as the game wound down, relentlessly attacking the rim and leading a Terps press on defense in a desperate attempt to steal a game that wasn't as close as the final score. In all, Maryland shot 48 percent but managed to connect on only 4 of 17 threes and turned it over 17 times, including the fateful giveaway from Smotrycz.
Layman had his best game in more than a month. Pittsburgh took away his looks from three but the sophomore avoided the discouraging behavior he'd exhibited for much of January, instead getting to the rim or finding seams in the defense within which he could get off good shots.
"We played really hard tonight," Layman said. "What really killed us was the start of the second half. We just went a little crazy, took some crazy shots and had some bad turnovers. That was really the game right there. We couldn't catch up after that."
Knocking off a team the caliber of Pitt is something the crumbling Terrapins simply aren't capable of right now. Their talent and effort can keep them close on the right night, as it did for much of Saturday's contest, but breakdowns have been inevitable with this group.
Until they play smarter, any flashes of hope will continue to be snuffed out by disappointment.
Did you notice?
- After Maryland started the game 5 for 8, Mark Turgeon subbed out everyone but Jake Layman at the 14:54 mark. The Terps proceeded to miss 10 of their next 12 shots, eventually enabling Pitt to take their first lead.
- The Terps were called for four illegal screens in the first half alone, one violation each for all four of their centers. Maryland committed 14 fouls in the first half and Pitt made them pay, knocking down 16 of 17 from the line before hald.
- Shaquille Cleare spoiled some impressive ball movement on an early possession when a Dez Wells dish went through his hands and out of bounds along the baseline. It was a nice look from Wells and should have been a surefire dunk for Cleare.
- Wells was tasked with guarding All-American candidate Lamar Patterson early on, even with team stopper Nick Faust on the court.
- After pumping the ball into the post resulted in three straight buckets early in the second half, the Terps turned it over on three straight possessions, with Jake Layman the main culprit. Maryland turned it over 17 times on Saturday and was lucky enough to surrender only 16 points off those mistakes.
- Cleare had one of his more competent sequences on offense early in the second half, backing down his man before flipping a baby hook shot through the hoop and following it up with an impressive dish to Jonathan Graham for a layup on the next possession.
- After starting hot, Layman misses two shots in the middle chunk on the first half but kept firing, totaling seven shots before halftime. Layman has disappeared over the last month after cold stretches, but Saturday he seemed intent on factoring into the outcome and what resulted was his best game in six weeks.
- Wells missed dunk attempt in the final minutes was certainly egregious given the situation, but the junior promptly redeemed himself by snatching the ball back from a Pittsburgh defender and laying it in for two.